Page 1

Index Foreword


Silvia Colmenares



Federico Soriano

Lecture #1. Architecture Exposed: From Panoptic Discipline to Global Anthony Vidler

p.14 + 65 + 161 + 193 + 225

Lecture #2. Looking Good Sarah Whiting


disciplinary debates # 1 The Industry of Living. Architecture, precarity and freelancing Francesco Marullo


A World Apart. Architectural Autonomy as Artistic Freedom Un Mundo aparte. La autonomía arquitectónica como libertad artística Rafael Gómez-Moriana p.45 Revisiting the Debate around Autonomy in Architecture: A Genealogy Revisitando el debate sobre la autonomía de la arquitectura: Una genealogía p.49 Marianna Charitonidou The Hermeneutics of Architectural Translation Hermenéutica de la traducción arquitectónica p.53 Giacomo Pala Between autonomy and heteronomy. A critical inquiry into the grid of folies at Parc de La Villette Entre autonomía y heteronomía. Apuntes críticos en torno a la retícula de folies del Parque de La Villette p.57 Giomar Martín The Formal Basis of Modern Architecture: Peter Eisenman’s Analytical Method Las bases formales de la arquitectura moderna: el método analítico de Peter Eisenman Francesco Coppolecchia + Luca Guido p.61 Architecture on Architecture. Autonomy as a transformative apability Arquitectura sobre Arquitectura. La autonomía como capacidad transformadora Karen Olesen p.81

side effects # 2 Circulating Borders: The Architecture of Global Cultural Institutions Marina Otero Verzier


Art interferences in the domestic sphere after the Happening Interferencias del arte en la escala doméstica después de los happening p.103 Ángela Juarranz Serrano The Architect as Editor. Influence of curatorship and literary criticism in Delirious New York El arquitecto como editor. Influencia del comisariado artístico y la crítica literaria en Delirious New York p.107 Ignacio Senra Fernández-Miranda Overexposure. The curator as editor of contemporary architectural thought Sobreexposición. El “curator” como montador del pensamiento arquitectónico contemporáneo p.111 Felipe Reyno Capurro Fictional pacts with architecture. Video games (and their theory) as a tool to dismantle the fictions of everyday architecture Pactos ficcionales con la arquitectura. Los videojuegos (y su teoría) como herramienta para desmantelar las ficciones de la arquitectura cotidiana Gaizka Altuna Charterina p.115 Pas de deux: an attempt to define architecture’s specificity and out-tonomy Pas de deux: definición tentativa de lo específico de la arquitectura y su out-onomía Susana Ventura p.119

redescriptions # 3 Redescriptions, artealizations and other sesquipedalia Carlos Arroyo


Critical Representational Practices. Limits and Rupture of Architectural Autonomy Prácticas representacionales críticas. Límite y ruptura de la autonomía arquitectónica p.139 Felipe Corvalán Tapia Anti-fragility. The operative entropy

Antifragilidad. La entropía operativa p.143

Borja Lomas Rodríguez

Copyright in the Bazaar From the protection of drawings to the globalization of images Lluis Juan Liñán

Copyright en el rastro De la protección del dibujo a la globalización de la imagen p.147

Metamodernism. The last dialectic Luis Bretón Belloso

Metamodernismo. La última dialéctica p.151

Contempt for the statute of architecture: transgression founds the rule El desprecio del estatuto de la arquitectura: la transgresión funda la regla Jorge Minguet Medina + Carlos Tapia Martín p.155

dealing with reality # 4 Autonomy today Luis Rojo de Castro


Politics of French Popular Front at Charlotte Perriand and Eileen Gray’s Architecture La política del Frente Popular francés en la arquitectura de Charlotte Perriand y Eileen Gray p.189 María Pura Moreno Moreno Accidental city: The contemporary distance between project and experience Ciudad accidental: La distancia contemporánea entre proyecto y experiencia p.209 José Ignacio Vielma Cabruja Is Dashilar a Paradigm? Re-appraise the notion of autonomy in architecture ¿Es Dashilar un paradigma? Reapropiación de la noción de autonomía en arquitectura p.213 Peng Xue Critical roles of Architecture, The endemic of labour in the favela dwelling system: Towards a critique on its architectural autonomy Papeles críticos de la arquitectura, Lo endémico del trabajo en el sistema de viviendas favela: Hacia una crítica de su autonomía arquitectónica Ana Rosa Chagas Cavalcanti p.217 The Devil wears Prada Market economy, globalization and cynicism in a new architecture

El diablo viste de prada Economía de mercado, globalización y cinismo en una nueva arquitectura Gonzalo Basulto Calvo + Lucía de Blas Noval p.221


Foreword The more global facts and effects become, the more value is assigned to specificity. For certain, architecture does not escape this compensatory logic. Although there is no way in which architecture could ever operate separately from economic, social and cultural agents, today this condition seems to have been extremely accentuated. Excursions into other fields are a requisite to carry out any meaningful body of work. The ubiquity of the term ‘interdisciplinarity’ in the current architectural discourse proves its status of watchword – when not of password – in a sort of professional flight forward reinforcing the belief in a holistic education of the architect, in its role as orchestrator. In the meanwhile, architecture has apparently abandoned its claims of autonomy, that is, a mode of resistance based on its ability to disengage itself from the existing structures of power and capital, opposing and unveiling them in negative terms. The advent of what has been identified as ‘the end of theory’ would be nothing but a symptom of this defeat. In a highly pragmatic approach, we have learned to deal with reality ‘as it is’. And yet, to be operative - or projective, or positive - in a general absence of singularities, we still need disciplinary specificity. Traditionally, the idea of architectural autonomy has been typically addressed in a twofold perspective: On the one hand, ‘formal autonomy’, as architecture’s self-consciousness of its internal and structural reasons, usually devoid of any political commitment to its social context and expressed mainly in aesthetic terms. On the other hand, ‘disciplinary autonomy’, as architecture’s development of specific procedures to deal with reality, compared to other fields, whether artistic or scientific, being therefore a result of historical time. In June 2017, we set the table to raise again the question of architecture’s autonomy, in the belief that the current general panorama demanded new insights to re-focus this old topic. With the doubleedged term ‘out-tonomy’, which titled the Conference, we wanted to underline the contradictory yet true condition of the contemporary architect who has learned to stand right on the boundary of the discipline to show versatility, while trying to keep the core of his/her knowledge safe from social irrelevance. This volume is the result of three days of intense activity and the generosity of the people who agreed to take part in the conversation. Anthony Vidler’s words have been excerpted and carefully placed in-between the rest of the material which has all been produced after the Conference. The selected quotations from his lecture act as a reminder of the theoretical framework that was constructed along history for the concept of autonomy since its very first Kantian formulation. These pages will lead the reader, step by step, to a final gift: the definition of a Fourth Typology, still awaiting to be ‘invented’, but for which Vidler points the path. In accordance with Sarah Whiting’s longstanding position, she provided us with a stimulating piece that invites us to think about architecture in an autonomous yet responsible way. Getting away from


dichotomies or excluding categories (object–context, theory–practice, aesthetics–social responsibility) she uses statements retrieved from newspapers and other means of dissemination which are far away from any academic discourse, to exemplify the way in which narratives have been polarized around the two main facts of architecture: building and representation. Francesco Marullo and Marina Otero contribute with a very personal and refreshing perspective on the topic. The first directs his thoughts towards the subject, the producer of architectural projects, and its precarious condition as a worker. Taking the adjective from the expression ‘autonomous worker’ as a sort of euphemism for the self-employed freelancer who nevertheless is nothing but independent from the forces of capital, Marullo proposes looking at it as an opportunity for one’s life self-design. Not a transitory situation, nostalgic about stability, but a permanent one: the new generalized frame for human labor. His joining the claim for the establishment of the Universal Basic Income might be read as provocative, or even ironic in a post-crisis scenario, but it might also be the only way to move from an unspecific potential to work towards a self-conscious autonomous practice. As regards Marina Otero, she concentrates on the object. Her approach to autonomy is quite literal, referring to the possibility for the physical disconnection of the building from the ground. Taking two institutional projects for mobile cultural infrastructures as case studies, she brings into evidence the contradictory condition of an architecture aimed for public engagement and its circulation around the globe without experimenting any adaptation to each context. Although the temporary museum phenomena can be said to have been favored by the global demand for greater participatory forms of democracy, the perception of this move as opportunistic brought both projects to an end. However, even in such a case of floating architectures, collateral effects appeared at each location, unraveling the relations between knowledge and power that buildings –even disappearing ones - can embody. Likewise, unveiling the power of language when used to describe architectural objects, seems to be the goal of Carlos Arroyo’s reflections. His contribution is mainly a game. Structured around six ‘sesquipedalia’ (long words) and a graphic conclusion, the text shows how the speed rate in which compound words proliferate in architectural texts not always corresponds to a similar abundance of brand new situations awaiting to be named. Luis Rojo backs up a tentative diagnosis of the currency of the autonomy debates providing us with a precise genealogy for them, stopping at each milestone text or event, and finally concluding that today the concept is mainly instrumental in a pedagogical context. To illustrate this thesis, he draws the surrounding conditions of two main curricular experiments: ‘Las Vegas Yale Studio’ in the 60s and ‘The Harvard Project on the City’ in the 90s. The first one expanding disciplinary limits towards the new


territory of mass culture, the second confronting disciplinary limitations with the experience of late capitalism urban chaotic experience. After each of the invited contributors, who also led the discussion panels, an extended and revised version of the selected abstracts has been included in this volume. The names given to each group by the Scientific Committee have been kept although the conversation developed after the oral presentations came up with others equally suitable. The topics range from the analysis of the classical discourse on autonomy represented by figures such as Peter Eisenman or Bernard Tschumi, to the recently acquired curatorial function of the architect, his editorial activity or the art-architecture crossed procedures and interests. Even a detached reading cannot skip the fact that prepositions of place are continuously used to build up the argument. But what prepositions of place (in, out, on, into, beyond, across, through, around, inside, etc..) really indicate is a sense of belonging. No matter if the exact location is described in positive or negative terms, the question of autonomy is always spatialized; the discussion implicitly refers to a center, a core which is never properly or explicitly defined. Architecture needs constraint to operate. No matter if those are self-imposed or they come from the exterior. The inside-outside scheme is only a problem in front of the need to choose. Maybe the oppositional model could be developed into a prepositional one, a whole new collection of standpoints in relation to the discipline of architecture.

Silvia Colmenares Assistant Professor of Architectural Design DPA- ETSAM. General Coordinator of the 2016 Critic|all conference Editor of Critic|all vol. II.


#Outï onomy1 1. Extended text on the outline material for the MPAA6 (Research Masters of the Department of Architectural Projects) developed during the 2014/2015 course at the ESTAM (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid). Digital versión: uploads/2014/06/BROCHURE_MPAA6.pdf The term plays on the phonetics of the prefixes auto and out [/aut/ Spanish voice], trying to combine the two proposed meanings for this concept.

Autonomy is a dimension of reason that gives humans, thanks to their cognitive capacity, the possibility of setting their own rules or making decision out of their own free will, without the intervention of an external authority. It is a will to be independent. Although the term has always been linked to philosophy or ethics, it is not until Immanuel Kant postulates the autonomy of moral law that it begins to acquire merit of its own.

“Autonomy of the will is the property of the will through which it is a law to itself (independently of all properties of the objects of volition). The principle of autonomy is thus: ‘Not to choose otherwise than so that the maxims of one’s choice are at the same time comprehended with it in the same volition as universal law’.” 2 2. Kant, Immanuel. Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. Riga. 1785. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. English version translated and edited by Allen W. Wood. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002. p. 58.

For Kant, ethics must be autonomous, based on duty for duty’s sake, and thus able to become universal norms of behaviour. This is the absolute opposite of heteronomous ethics, such as those based on pleasure or those that need the dictates of a universal fundamental superior law.

Over time the term has been extended to many more fields or areas. One of these is the arts. Here, it characterises a kind of resistance by the vanguards in the face of growing utilitarianism, bureaucracy and the aligning of society. The artist is free when creating, as opposed to society. Naturally, being one of the arts, the word has also reached architecture. The concept was introduced by Emil Kaufmann3 in 1933 in reference to the work and thoughts of Nicolas Ledoux. 3. Kaufmann, Emil. Von Ledoux Bis Le Corbusier. Whether because of the design process or their final results, his Ursprung und Entewicklung Der Autonomen Architektur. Leipzig-Wien, 1933. De Ledoux a Le projects modelled a breach in tradition that, according to him, Corbusier. Origen y desarrollo de la arquitectura dated the beginning of modern architecture. Autonomy was autónoma. Spanish versión by Reinald Bernet. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1982. thus born as a synonym of revolution, in contrast to the classic. The term has been accumulating layers of meaning over time, going from a synonym of the freedom or responsibility of an individual person and of morals, to that of disciplines or of cultures and language. These disciplines, in order to preserve their autonomy, closed off or clearly delimited the boundaries of their knowledge and topic areas, avoiding the influence of the external, which then became the foreign, the other. It was about reducing the dependency on other different knowledge-areas because this would mean a weakness in decision making. Trade associations and official institutions visibilized this stance with a permanent structure. During the following historical events, each new movement or current that emerged in these disciplines or cultures began by seeking to redefine their own exclusive area. In pendular movements, the scope of this enclosed interior increased or decreased. It was either infected by what was outside, allowing other knowledge to come into the previous heritage, or it


was distilled into very reduced teachings, becoming increasingly exclusive. Autonomy is a balloon of exclusive prerogative knowledge and technique that fluctuates over time, although it always maintains its border skin that delimits each side. The last movement in the recovery of disciplines occurred during postmodernism’s reassertion, under the tutelage of the redemption of architectural memory and history. Whichever way the Modern Movement worked the metaphor (formally or scientifically) in order to construct its theory, the return to a self-referential vision of architecture consolidated the recovery of autonomy as a concept. When Peter Eisenman says that it is only possible to do architecture from a critique or a transformation of what came before4, he is establishing a basic rule for the survival of this concept. To this we must add the influence of post-structuralist French thinkers, 4. del Olmo, Carolina. “Arquitectura postmetafísica”. which clearly highlighted the impossibility of rescuing an Interview with Peter Eisenman. In Minerva, 17. Madrid: Círculo de Bellas Artes, 2011. p. 69. unequivocal relationship between signifier and signified. Thus, once acknowledged that traditional architectural language was just this, what is needed is another language, the construction of its own specific and particular system of meanings on each occasion, where the objects of study develop their own particular binding framework. Along with this vision of a self-sufficient language came another view, more generalised, that relied exclusively on a common belonging to a History of Architecture. For this notion, history is an independent project, clearly related to the rest of human events happening around it, but with its own sovereign laws. In this case, an architectural project is a critique of its predecessors or another piece in this historical series. It behaves in the same way as was discussed earlier, as an autonomous and selfreferential methodology, be it syntactically or semantically. Rafael Moneo contrasts these two views through their two paradigmatic champion architects, Aldo Rossi and Peter Eisenman, and he distances them across the extremes of the terms meaning: “... the understanding that one and the other have of autonomy are worlds apart: for Rossi autonomy finds substantiation in history, for Eisenman it occurs with the elaboration of a self-sufficient language”. 5 5. Moneo, Rafael. Inquietud teórica y estrategia

Joseph Kosuth’s phrase “art indeed exists for its own sake”6 proyectual en la obra de ocho arquitectos contemporáneos. Barcelona: Actar, 2004. p. 153. makes it clear that the greatest censorship these conceptions of autonomy suffer is their own isolation from everything de Solà-Morales, Ignasi. Diferencias. Topografía else; their classist autism. This kind of critical architecture — 6. de la arquitectura contemporánea. Barcelona: a concept coined by Peter Gustavo Gili. 1995. p. 86. 7. Eisenman, Peter. “Autonomy and the Will Eisenman7 and K. Michael to the Critical” in: Assemblage, 41, April. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. p. 90-91. Hays8 , although the latter distances himself from previous exclusivist stances by defending a ‘critical architecture’ in which autonomy is 8. Hays, K. Michael. “Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form” in: Perspecta, a precondition for a commitment between discipline and critique 21. Cambridge: Yale School of Architecture. on one hand, and reality and consumer goods on the other — was 1984. p. 14-29.


countered by another kind of architecture linked to real practice, which understood that design decisions were made by everyday agents and circumstances, or by social needs that seemed very far from and foreign to the self-inclusive architectural discourse.9 The need 9. Kaminer, Tahl. “Architectural Autonomy: from to fulfil a social contract is above and beyond this academic Conception to Disillusion” in: Haecceity Papers, 1(2), discussion. Architecture is a social need, as Carol Burns and What Now Architecture? Spring, 2006. Robert Taylor clearly state: “Architecture is not an isolated or autonomous medium, it is actively engaged by the social, intellectual, and visual culture which is outside the discipline and which encompasses it ... It is based on a premise that architecture is inevitably involved with questions more difficult than those of form or style”. 10 This new duality of whether architecture is an instrument of culture or an autonomous form, and which I have phrased in 10. Burns, C. & Taylor, R. Cited in Somol, R. & Whiting, S. “Notes around the Doppler Effect other instances as “pragmatism versus utopia” has shaped the and Other Moods of Modernism” in Perspecta, debate. Yet the pendular motion between critique and reality, 33, Mining Autonomy. Cambridge: Yale School of Architecture. 2002. p. 72-77. culture or discipline, has crashed. It has gone up in smoke right in front of us, basically because we have decided to redefine the question, forgetting the debate. Dissolving once and for all the limits between disciplines, shattering these enclosures and rethinking from another perspective the definition of a new concept, that of #out•onomy. A discipline is no longer a place or a delimited preserve but a perspective, a reading or a modification. There is only a set of facts and knowledges, yet infinite disciplines of interpretation. This is an important qualitative jump. All knowledge belongs to us. However, at the same time, we have decided to observe and study architecture from outside what was until that moment the discipline. Outside academia, observing it with the eyes of foreign sciences. We have become used to finding metaphorical or instrumental references used in other fields, transforming them via translation machines into part of the project. This is also the cause for the proliferation of image-architectures that have found one last bastion in the superformal, the photogenic, and the spectacular. A vertigo that is caused because instead of accepting the lonely state of areas of open critique, some have taken a step further and aggravated the most basic formal conditions, substituting language for style: “Behind our preoccupation with the autonomy of architecture lies an anxiety that derives in large measure from the fact that nothing could be less autonomous than architecture, particularly today when because of the domination of the media we find it increasingly difficult to arrive at what we want. Under such sceptical circumstances, architects often feel constrained to perform acrobatic feats in order to assure attention. In so doing, they tend to follow a succession of stylistic tropes that leave no image unconsumed, so that the entire field becomes flooded with an endless proliferation of images. This is a situation in which buildings tend to be increasingly designed for their photogenic effect


rather than their experiential potential. Plastic stimuli abound in a frenzy of iteration that echoes the information explosion”. 11 11. Frampton, Kenneth. “Reflections on the Autonomy of Architecture: A Critique of Contemporary Production” in: Ghirardo, Diane (Ed.). Out of Site: A Social Criticism of Architecture. Seattle: Bay Press. 1991. p. 17-26.

Like the flowers that before dying bloom with a youthfulness never seen before, volume and envelope have become the biggest explosion of diversity that nature has produced. Just before discovering that it no longer makes any sense.

We must naturally accept that the remains of the discipline are simply what is inherent to each project, to each architecture, to all architecture. The inherent, what is already there, what it is, what “is by nature part of something in a way that it cannot be separated from it”*, as put by the dictionary of the RAE (Royal Spanish Academy). We can say that architecture, because of its own nature, only depends on the actual discourse we are able to develop, what we define as being within or what we say belongs. Moreover, one could say that, due to architecture’s own nature, what is included at each point or in each discourse is part of architecture in a way that it cannot be separated from it. Yet this discourse, equally, is inseparable from the artificial nature it evokes. From what is foreign to it. It is the presence of history and heritage, as much as it is of the real problems that constantly surround architecture. The inherent is, therefore, the collection of knowledges, heritage, influences or interests that, through those nuclear forces, stick to architecture, ultimately the word giving shape to itself. It is our new discipline, momentary and instantaneous to each project. From the “treaties of architecture” to the “everything is 12. Hollein, Hans. “Alles Ist Architektur” in: «Bau» für Architektur und Städtebau, 23, Jahrgang, architecture”12 there is a much more drastic change that Schrift Heft 1/2, Wien, 1968. what one may assume. We know that autonomy is not in the independence of the tools and the knowledge of architecture, or of any other science, the world or the rest of society, but rather in the stance we take as architects or thinkers. An external position has changed our perspective on the action. From the outside. Critique or design is happening by positioning ourselves outside the actual object. Being outside allows us to act with a greater autonomy. From the outside; out of the object. Outside time and history. This is the impossible complexity we must solve. Everything belongs to us, everything is within our knowledge, yet we must act from the outside. From the distance of the landscape. Does this position exist? Similarly to the way the universe is expanding yet there is supposedly nothing outside it. So, towards where does it expand? Towards something that cannot be until it is occupied. It would be fascinating to be able to define it and thus know where we must place ourselves. This place is not a place but a position that does not need a location. We can continue sustaining the illusion of autonomy by placing ourselves outside and above the problem, yet remain within it. An inside covered by the critical range of any distance. In contrast, I believe that an interior is not a place but a viewpoint, in the same way as autonomy is not an island-book of methodologies but our thought’s capacity to respond freely to the knowledge


being handled at that moment. It does not seem important to know which are the basic or vital needs in order to respond or act with proficiency. It is not important to define them now. The autonomy we claim over a discipline that stretches across the world seems to force us to acknowledge that we make decisions from within it, as if we were to see a problem from the outside, we would act in the same way as the authority making decisions regarding events or individuals alien to the authority itself. This sounds familiar yet is completely different to the aforementioned. Words operate from the opposite of their meanings while at the same time we affirm that autonomy and interior are not the same word; #out•onomy. #Out•onomy is not an end in itself, but is a fact. It is not an aspiration to practise a critical architecture or a critique of architecture by intertwining with previous stances. It is a position and a reading. A method to displace clichés without the need to destroy them. #Out•onomy works from a free space of exchange between what is and what is possible. Roemer van Toorn calls this intention a “progressive projective practice”.13 Yet this argument can also be inverted. 13. Van Toorn, Roemer. “Aesthetics as a Form of Politics” in: Open, 10, (In)Tolerance Freedom of Expression in Art and Culture. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers. 2006. Available at: html

The #out•onomy of architecture is, as well, among the parts that compose the object, in-between the interiors and the exteriors, which now live separate lives – opposing even –, without the unit or the coherence being undermined. Each part or possible fragment of the project or the build will want to work with the autonomy of the whole. They have their properties, independently of the relationships that want to be established between them or with what is ‘the rest’. Yet everything that has been separated, the autonomous, being inherent to the object and the project, once the design process has finished, ends up being the whole. In fact architecture has built a new historical discourse, displacing concepts and securities, and inverting the position we had found ourselves in, exchanging the critical position architecture thought it held.

Federico Soriano, Tenured Professor of Architectural Design DPA- ETSAM. Director of the 2016 Critic|all conference.


Lecture # 1

Architecture Exposed: From Panoptic Discipline to Global Heteronomy

Anthony Vidler

Historian and critic, Mr. Vidler is the former Dean of Cooper Union School of Architecture, before which he taught at Princeton and UCLA. His most recent books include The Scenes of the Street and Other Essays (Monacelli Press, 2011), James Frazer Stirling: Notes from the Archive (Yale Press, 2010), and Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism (MIT Press, 2008).

Editor’s note: The following pages present a collection of fragments transcripted from the lecture with which Professor Anthony Vidler opened the Conference on June 20, 2016. The reader will find them scattered in groups all along the book.

lecture #1

I have to say I am complicit in this notion of autonomy from the very beginning of my career, when I went to Cambridge. I was presented with my Tutor, Colin Rowe, with whom I sat for about three hours, sometimes five if the matinees lasted that long, once a week for two years. That was Rowe. 17

lecture #1

In a kind of retrospective journey, today, I can see myself as somebody else. And so, as somebody else, I retraced the autonomy debates, and the relationship between architecture and society, in a slightly different way than I’ve done it before, because I now believe in the context of the emerging catastrophe of our world disorder.

I believe that the question of architecture and its autonomy - if it has anyis of increasing urgency. 19

lecture #1

When I think of the word Autonomy I also think of the word Discipline First and foremost, because I think of the specificity of somehow the craftsmanship or ‘techne’, which Plato, relations of first in The Republic then in The Laws, architecture ascribed to each individual who had to itself ‘techne’ in the society of the ‘polis’, whether and the it was the humble craftsman shoe relationship maker or whether he of was the state men, or ‘politikós’. Each Architecture had his particular ‘techne’, and that to the world was the role of that individual in that are in fact society, the closed, tightly controlled disciplinary and isolated utopic societies of Plato’s relations. polis. 21

lecture #1

The world in total connectivity and total interrelatedness through networks of different kinds:

This is the world in which architecture has to stand in relationship to any possible autonomy it can claim. 23

lecture #1

The first individual to claim that architecture is a discipline (disciplinis) was Vitruvius in the 1st Century AD.

What he called the ‘corpus’ or the body of architecture was a knowledge of many disciplines and various kinds iterature, ofgeometry, erudition: history, philosophy, music, l

medicine, laws, astrology, optics, and so on.

But, having knowledge of all those doesn’t mean ‘that’ makes the architect. 25

disciplinary debates #1

by Francesco Marullo

The Industry of Living. Architecture, precarity and freelancing. 35

Francesco Marullo (1982) is an architect and researcher. He holds a Master of Science in Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences from the Delft Institute of Technology, where he recently defended his Ph.D. dissertation on the Architecture of Labor and Production within The City as a Project doctoral programme.   Francesco collaborated with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the Department of Urban Studies at RomaTre University, Dogma, Francesco Cellini and Matteo Mannini as architect and project leader. He worked as lecturer and studio tutor at the Berlage Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture and Urban Design, at the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture, at the RomaTre Faculty of Architecture and at the Delft University of Technology. Together with Amir Djalali and Hamed Khosravi he established  Behemoth Press, a think-tank and publishing house devoted to the exploration of architectural knowledge  and its relations to political power through books, projects and drawings.

disciplinary debates # 1


“Precariousness is the desert of the world returned to jungle”1 1. Berardi, Franco. Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide.

n his 1918 lecture titled “Science as a Vocation,” London: Verso, 2015. Max Weber defined as prekär the particular condition of the young German scholars wishing to undertake the academic career.2 Precariousness was considered part of the normal professional academic 2. Max Weber used prekär to address the curriculum, coinciding with the period of preparation condition of the German Privatdozenten, loaded of unpaid heavy work and assigned to necessary to achieve a tenure position: a sort of traineeship minor courses for long time before reaching limbo before the stability of professorship. Precisely that a fixed waged position, on the opposite of their American colleagues, who were status of uncertainty constituted for Weber a peculiar instead handsomely paid and immediately characteristic of the German university system. If on one inserted within the University technical apparatuses. See Max Weber, “Wissenschaft side it condemned researchers to unpaid workloads for als Beruf” Gesammlte Aufsaetze zur short-term contracts, on the other it ensured a continuous Wissenschaftslehre. Tubingen, 1922, p. 52455. Originally a speech at Munich University turnover of the educational apparatus and dynamism in which was /has been translated and edited by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills in Weber, research, avoiding the canonization of knowledge into Max. Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford reproducible techniques. University Press, 1946, p. 129-156. See also Bologna, Sergio. Vita da Freelance. I lavoratori della conoscenza e il loro future. Milan: Feltrinelli, 2011, p. 54-56, 137.


Almost one century after Weber’s lecture, with the progressive collapse of welfare systems, the privatization of public services, the imposition of regimes of austerity and the replacement of political agonism with financial regulations, it seems that what he defined as a “transitional phase” has become today the primary and ubiquitous condition of employment, diffused not only within academies but in any field of production and at all professional levels. Labor instability has progressively dismantled any traditional form of salaried work, with the subtle imposition of a whole new pattern of temporary contractual relations, from informal internships to project-based commissions, from on-demand mechanical turks to zero-hours performances and voucher checks. Nevertheless, despite its pervasiveness, the idea of precarity is still generally conceived as an exception versus the norm of stable employment and often nostalgically opposed to the yearned category of permanent job with its welfare guarantees. Such persistence in negating precarity by regretting older forms of employment or wishing a return to previous modes of production, ultimately denies any understanding of its inner logic and the elaboration of a strategy to revert its 3. For a larger understanding of the phenomenon see Standing, Guy. The Precariat: The negative effects.3 Perhaps, New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011, and Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Declaration, Self-published, 2012. Beside the traditional literature on this would be the time the emerging class the “preacariat”, a very interesting critical approach on the notion of to trace an alternative precarity could be found in the material, articles and comments gathered in the Quaderni di San Precario, a free online-magazine developed from the MayDay movement in 2001. trajectory of opposition Among the many contributions, Cristina Morini, “La Cognizione dell’Impermanenza. Il lavoro a tempo indeterminato paradigma della delving instead into the precarietà contemporanea”, in Io non ho paura del default. QSP 3, Spring 2012. very conditions of precarity,

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considering it as the norm of labor market rather than its exception and thus looking at the workers who made of precariousness their form of life: those who consciously accepted to shape their existences through discontinuous and hybrid employments as the freelancer, for example: the self-employed autonomous worker.4 4. Ferruccio Gambino remarks that Fordism, as regime of open-shop, mass production and labor disorganization, ended in 1941 because of “the struggles for industrial unionism in the United States in the 1930s, which were crowned by the imposition of collective bargaining at Ford in 1941.” See Gambino, Ferruccio. “A critique of the Fordism of the Regulation School”, in Common Sense, No. 19, June 1996, recently recovered in Neilson, Brett and Ned Rossiter. “Precarity as a political concept, or, Fordism as exception” in Theory, Culture & Society, 25(7-8), p. 51-72.

A freelancer is a one-person company or, as Sergio Bologna defined it, a worker who lumped the three traditional roles of enterprise within a single person: the capitalist, who provides the investment capital; the manager, who administers and controls the activities of investment; and the salaried employee, who propels the activities of the firm. The life of a freelancer coincides with her work, her daily rituals with her working shifts, her remuneration with the completion of performances. Their experience, competence and accumulated knowledge are all they have: they construct their own existence upon risk and cynicism in the midst of a working environment of fierce competition, solely responsible for their business identity and success. Similarly to a debtor, who shapes her own subjectivity in order to fulfill a promise to a creditor, the freelancer needs to respect tasks and deadlines to maintain the credibility of her work, and so to obtain future commissions: any commitment with a client becomes a “memory of the future.”5

Freelance labor does not include care assistance, dismissal 5. Lazzarato, Maurizio. The Making of the Man. An Essay on the Neoliberal periods, redundancy rights, paid holidays, maternity Indebted Condition. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012. leaves or special compensations for ending-contract. Whereas salaried workers could collectively bargain their contracts thanks to their space of work and trade-unions, freelancers are spatially fragmented and devoid of any professional trade association. Moreover, while the salaried worker was assigned to specific and definite workplaces, the freelancer’s place of work is inseparable from her body. Devoid of any prescribed routine or mandatory protocol, the freelancer needs to plan her time and space vis-à-vis tasks and deadlines while keeping a firm psychological attitude, creating habits, training competencies, and weaving social relations. Freelancers thus succumb to a whole micro-physics of power, which directly integrate their subjectivities not only with the activity but also with the places where they perform and cooperate with other people. For the oneperson enterprise, architecture is interiorized as a bodily and mental practice, delimiting and selecting intervals of possibility for expression. Inhabiting thus becomes a way for performing and making use of the self: the very act of dwelling achieves a political and economical resonance, coinciding with the extension of life activities and their embedded processes of valorization.


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To dwell is nothing but framing an interval of land and making it inhabitable, in order to not only ensure the survival of its occupants but also a mutual exchange with whom and what lives beyond the interval itself. Adopting Bernard Cache’s words, architecture is essentially an art of framing. To frame means to select and delimit a territory by vertical and horizontal separations: walls, to enable life within them but also cohabitation with what exists beyond them; and floors, to support and stage the activities of the inhabitants. Architecture cannot generate life but only circumscribe frames of probability for enabling life to freely take place. Since “one never knows how the interval that is marked off by the frame will be filled,” the frame is generally indifferent to content and functions, albeit every time it receives qualities from the forms of life proliferating within its interval.6 Acting as an index, the architectural frame is purely a means of expression for its content, 6. Cache, Bernard, Earth Moves: The Furnishing of for the activities and the relations of power it shelters. Territories. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 1995, p. 26-30. As he put it, “life is that inter-scalar phenomenon that causes alone can never produce” and what architecture can do is just to circumscribe frames of probability to enable life to freely emerge.”


For Cache, a fundamental role is assigned to the two main horizontal limitations of the frame, which expressly allow activities to take form: floors and roofs. While the first anchors the frame within a territory as a sort of stage, the latter protects, shelters and spatially delimits the events taking place below. Yet, moving from Le Corbusier’s famous “five points,” Cache notes how modern architecture has progressively extended the continuity of the horizontal surfaces minimizing the role of the roof.7 In order to host whatever activity, for Cache architecture became 7. In this sense, Le Corbusier’s article Architecture d’Époque Machiniste increasingly homogeneous, eliminating I believe is crucial in illustrating the industrialization of architecture, reduced to a technical procedure in five acts necessary to build up a the specificity of its constituting generic reproducible frame: “1. Architecture: constructing a shelter; 2. elements, combining floors with roofs A shelter: building a roof on walls; 3. A roof: covering a span to leave a space free; 4. Light up the shelter: opening windows; 5. Window: into continuous “promenades” and covering a span”. Le Corbusier, “Architecture d’Époque Machiniste” in suppressing any clear spatial orientation Journal de psychologie normale et Pathologique [1926], Turin: Bottega d’Erasmo, 1975, p. 332-336. for the sake of pure circulation. Through time, the outer delimitation of the roof has been reduced to a simple floor, its volumetric configuration flattened, its representativeness internalized and condemned to an uncertain state of continuity between the singularity of an enveloping form and the genericness of a planar repetition. This process of “rarefaction” progressively accelerated with the evolution of the forms of production, resulting in the proliferation of genericness, emptiness and flexibility as indisputable rules of design. In an economy increasingly driven by knowledge production and information exchange, wherein fixed and variable capital have merged into the mind and the body of single individuals, the specificity of production space dissolves into stages for action. Looking at the weaving emptiness of SANAA’s Rolex Learning Center or at Junya Ishigami’s pristine

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box Kanazawa Institute Technology Workshop — to mention two recent examples — the plan for cognitive production seems no longer measured through walls and floors but via intervals of programmatic intensities and rarefactions as in a sort of a climatic ecosystem made of spatial episodes.8 In Ishigami, the similar-but-not-identical parametric variations of the columns, the topographical alterations of the floors, 8. “Universal Climatic System” was the the constellations and calculated distribution of furniture name of the Archizoom’s entry of the pieces, is all that remains to supposedly qualify the space as competition for the University of Florence in 1970. See Archizoom Associati, “Città a learning facility: what is truly at stake are people and their Catena di Montaggio del Sociale. Ideologia e Teoria della Metropoli” in Casabella, Julymovements, the exchange of information, communication August (1970) which would provide the and cooperation, or in other words the virtuosity of actions basis both of the proposal for the Florence University and the famous No-Stop City. performed before the pure “presence of others”, across the Now reprinted in Branzi, Andrea. No-Stop enabling background of an empty plan.9 In SANAA, walls City. HYX: Orleans, 2006, p.162. and partitions have Virno, Paolo. “Virtuosismo e rivoluzione”, in been gradually eliminated, floors and roofs turned 9. Luogo comune, 4, (1993), republished as “Virtuosity into architectural promenades, outdoor and indoor and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus” in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics. conditions merged in air-controlled environments, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, interior landscapes without compounds, public p. 189-209. living rooms or co-working spaces where the single workstations have been sprawled into a network of Internet Protocol Addresses.10 10. See: Branzi, Andrea. Ten Modest Suggestions for a New Athens Charter, entry for the Venice Biennale 2010; “For a Post-Environmentalism: Seven Suggestions for a New Athens Charter” in Mostafavi, Mohsen and Gareth Doherty (eds) Ecological Urbanism. Baden: Lars Muller, 2010, p.110113; but also “The Fluid Metropolis” in: Andrea Branzi. The Complete Works. New York: Rizzoli, 1992, p. 50-51; and Branzi, Andrea. Weak and Diffuse Modernity: The World of Projects at the beginning of the 21st Century, Milano: Skira, 2006.

In both projects, the plan is no longer managed by partitioned spaces but through dynamic dispositions and vectors that could be eventually reconfigured, to such an extent that the space of cognitive production substantially replicates the mental and bodily frames of the freelancer at a collective scale. In other words, at the apogee of immaterial capitalism and financial austerity, architecture becomes the art of “organizing possibilities”: a necessary transformation in order to flaunt life as such and the human innate drive to inhabit and organize space as a source of production. The common trait of the human species resides in its ability to dwell the world as a totality: to project, plan and reduce the complexity of the world within finite forms of spatial, temporal and cultural organizations, in order to ward off the anguish of his own natural indeterminacy. Men are in fact biologically precarious. Differently from the other animals, which are bound to their instincts and milieus, men do 11. See Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the critique of political not have any specific environment but economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus. New York: Vintage Books, 1973, p. 267; constantly produce their own nature Gehlen, Arnold. Man In the age of technology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980; and Virno, Paolo. Scienze Sociali e “Natura Umana”. and their spaces for survival.11 The act Facoltà di linguaggio, invariante biologico e rapporti di produzione. Soveria Mannelli: Rubettino Editore, 2003.

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by Marina Otero Verzier

Circulating Borders: The Architecture of Global Cultural Institutions1 Marina Otero Verzier is an architect based in Rotterdam. She is Chief Curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016 with the After Belonging Agency, and Head of Research and Development at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Previously she was Director of Global Network Programming at Studio-X, a global network of research laboratories for exploring the future of cities launched by GSAPP (Columbia University, New York) in 2008. Otero studied architecture at TU Delft and ETSA Madrid. In 2013, as a Fulbright Scholar, she graduated from the M.S. in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture at Columbia University GSAPP (New York), receiving the Award for High Academic Attainment. Her thesis ‘Evanescent Institutions’ examined the emergence of a new paradigms for cultural institutions. Her work, recently awarded by The Graham Foundation and Fundación Arquia, has been published in different books and journals including SQM. Otero has co-edited Promiscuous Encounters (GSAPP Books, 2014), After Belonging (Lars Müller Publishers, 2016) and curated exhibitions at The 2013 Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale and the Istanbul Design Biennial 2014, among others. She has taught seminars and studios at ETSAM, Barnard College, and Columbia GSAPP, and lectured at a number of universities around the world.


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1. This text is a short adaptation of the Doctoral Thesis entitled Evanescent Institutions: Political Considerations on the Itinerant Architecture, defended at the ETSA Madrid in November 2016 by the author. Previous versions of this text have been published in different magazines and journals, among them Arquitectura Viva, ARQ 90, Circo, Domus, ARQ 90,Mas Conext, The Avery Review.

n 2008, oil prices peaked, while stock markets around the world experienced the effects of the 2007 subprime mortgage meltdown that developed into a global financial crisis. These processes resulted in a global economic recession and a sovereign debt crisis in Europe that were particularly severe for large parts of the population, causing impoverishment, unemployment, evictions, and foreclosures, while triggering global unrest that had its peak in 2011.

That year, anti-government protests that spread in a series of Arab countries became known as the Arab Spring. Months later, the anti-austerity movement in Spain and the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon in the United States grew into a global protest movement that spread to more than eighty countries calling for a “real democracy.” 2


2. In 2011, citizen multitudes took the streets in different scenarios around the world —from the Arab Spring to the protests in Madrid, Athens, Santiago de Chile, New York, Moscow, among others —to protest against their current models of electoral (and non-electoral) forms of political representation and participation, with claims such as “They don’t represent us” or “We are the 99%”.

At the same time as these global citizen protests unfolded, two major cultural institutions—the Centre Pompidou and the Guggenheim Foundation—launched initiatives that are symptomatic of how institutions captured that global democratic imaginary in their attempt to remain relevant players in contemporary cultural production: the Centre Pompidou Mobile, and the BMW Guggenheim Lab.

The former, designed by the French architect Patrick Bouchain, was claimed to be the “first mobile museum in the world,” one which is lightweight, removable “in the spirit of the circus or carnival” and that “can go anywhere in France to the wider public.”3 As the president of the Centre Pompidou at that time, Alain Seban, 3. Centre Pompidou website. (Accessed September stated during the opening, “the works of the Centre 22, 2012) Pompidou belong to the Nation and we should bring C o m m u n i c a t i o . n s f / 0 / 4 6 F D 0 0 4 7 5 2 A 3 6 AE9C1257918002D3C01?OpenDocument them to all French citizens.”4 &L=1&sessionM=8.3&L=1

4. Website of the Consulate General of France in Atlanta. (Accessed September 22, 2012) http://www.consulfrance-atlanta. org/spip.php?article3256

Despite the fact that the BMW Guggenheim Lab opened in August 2012, before the Pompidou Mobile, the French institution was not mistaken. The Lab, designed by Atelier Bow-Wow, was never presented as a museum, but a “combination of think tank, public forum, and community center,” that will travel around the globe.5 5. Guggenheim. Press Release August 2, 2011:“BMW Guggenheim Lab Opens Aug 3 in New York, Launching Six-Year Worldwide Tour.” (Accessed August 2, 2011) releases/4200-bglaug2.

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Both the architecture of the Lab and the Pompidou Mobile responded to imaginaries of cultural democratization developed through a simultaneous, and seemingly contradictory, search for autonomy and engagement. That is, an independence from the ground they occupy facilitated by the capacity to move and, at the same time, an interest in transforming cultural institutions in social and political agencies; an endeavor that they attempted to achieve by relocating cultural practices from the interior of institutions to temporary public spaces of cities, and through an architecture that was less an artistic object than a mediating infrastructure. This two-fold aim also manifests the polarization associated with the global regimes of circulation and media, and the continuous processes of participation and disengagement. The processes of globalization, in particular of global circulation, have historically had an impact in the forms in which architecture is conceived and designed. In the decades following the Second World War, human mobility, and its ultimate rootless lifestyle represented in nomadism, became a critical project, rather than a situation of force majeure—as in the case of the global displacements that had been triggered by world armed conflicts. In contrast with the previous half of the century, the discipline of architecture engaged with forms of resistance to nationalist ideologies and prioritized a cosmopolitan understanding of the territory. The architectural production was permeated by projects for a society in flux, free from strong ties to a particular land, and the definition of new forms of belonging. Projects that were strategically revisited by major cultural institutions in the years following the global financial crisis. Whereas museums in previous decades brought a sense of relevance to architecture concerning its role in intervening in urban space to produce financial and cultural growth by attracting global visitors and capital, in what has been called the “Bilbao Effect,” with years of budget cuts and declining revenues, the possibilities of constructing buildings that are able to exert a transformative effect on our environment diminished. In fact, the Guggenheim Foundation’s attempts to achieve a similar success to that of the Guggenheim Bilbao in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Salzburg, or Taichung were disrupted by the global economic downturn. The difficulty in making long-term commitments opened the possibilities for new models tailored for contemporary challenges: partnership and private sponsorship instead of private philanthropists, lower investments, non-permanent commitments and equally non-permanent structures. And, under pressure to keep visitor numbers and achieve international media impact, museums designed structures and free programs that would travel in search of new audiences. This is the case of the Guggenheim Lab and Pompidou Mobile, designed as a counterpart to the headquarters of their respective museums, aimed to reach wider publics—and, in the case


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of the Lab, potential BMW product consumers. These projects enable the institutions and companies they represent to occupy places and communities where their corporate buildings would never be installed permanently. Easily transportable and removable, the Guggenheim Lab and the Pompidou Mobile also open up new possibilities for understanding the relationship between architecture and land. Their itinerant architectures, designed as autonomous forms and transportable objects, occupy public spaces without the need to follow the rules and regulations that generally apply to permanent constructions, and without the obligation to respond to the local socioeconomic and political conditions. At the same time, the architecture of these cultural institutions in flux, which are not tied to the ground they occupy, paradoxically leave a permanent legacy. They participate in the transformation of public space in less visible but equally influential forms than the processes of urban development: taking part in the configuration of public space, becoming mechanisms of social order, being entangled in processes of urban development, and the logics of the art market.


I. The Centre Pompidou Mobile The aim of the Centre Pompidou Mobile was to create a “new museum model for the twentyfirst century,” one in which “there might be less large buildings, less interest in constructing thousands of square meters” to accommodate the ever growing collections, and bureaucratic efforts, and to, instead, propose a more dynamic vision of the institution, something that the institution sees as its core value.6

6. Alain Seban, transcript from Pauline Cathala and Nicolas Valode (Directors), Centre Pompidou mobile: Entretien entre Alain Seban, président du Centre Pompidou et Patrick Bouchain, architecte du Centre Pompidou mobile, video, min 02:01. Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle, Service audiovisuel du Centre Pompidou, Centre Pompidou / SCEREN/CNDP/ CRDP, 2012. Translated by author. (Accessed June 2, 2016) ressource.action? 4d071229410b1369f7d&param.idSource=FR_E2b4cbe1f48411e291ce4e114b8db6f

The Centre Pompidou, Alain Seban argued, “is deeply Republican. It was conceived by Georges Pompidou, President of the Republic, as a machine to modernize France; as a “decentralized center that was able to leave Paris (…)” in order “to meet (…) the widest possible audience.”7 “Do not forget,” Seban continued “that the Centre 7. Ibidem. video, min 00:20. Translated by Pompidou is the heir author. of Archigram, leisure architecture, utopian architecture. It is part of the cultural history of temporary architectures, one of the earliest references is Paxton’s Crystal Palace.”8 8. Alain Seban in an interview with architect Patrick Bouchain. “Architecture. Un Paris Architectural” in: Ville-Libourne Blog. Translation by author. (Accessed April 5, 2013)

Each of the stages in the genealogy naïvely described by Seban represents a rupture with previous sociopolitical and economic models and architectural forms. The transit from the impermanent architecture of circus to the Crystal Palace, highlighting the industrialization process, renders visible the values and

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means of production of the new capitalist society of the nineteenth century. Similarly, the Centre Pompidou marks the era of mass technological culture of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s that called for public participation and transformable environments, and that refused the idea of architecture as a fixed material. The next stage was perhaps predictable: one of mobile architecture for the contemporary global circulation of people, information, goods, and capital. The ambitions for this Centre Pompidou of the 21st century developed around different initiatives for its territorial expansion, including opening provincial branches such as the Centre Pompidou-Metz in 2010, and launching the Pompidou Mobile in 2011, with the mission to democratize culture by arriving to rural areas and the outskirts of large cities, therefore expanding the audience to even those who are not used to visit a museum. This contemporary civilizing process, as announced at the occasion of the opening of the Pompidou Mobile, would take the form of “a festive event,” “something popular and free,” that everybody would want to take part in.9 In Chaumont, the first stop of the tour, only a third of the visitors reported having been in a museum in the past five years. “I 9. Alain Seban, quoted in Barbieri, Claudia. “Come thought it was reserved for smart people!,” explained One, Come All to the Pompidou’s Traveling Art Circus” in: The New York Times, December 2, 2011. a 9-year-old girl, according to Le Monde.10 (Accessed April 7, 2013) http://www.nytimes. com/2011/12/03/arts/03iht-rartpompidou03. html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

10. Evin, Florence, “Dernier tour de piste pour le Pompidou mobile,” in: Le Monde, June, 7, 2013. (Accessed June 2, 2016) culture/article/2013/06/07/dernier-tour-de-pistepour-lepompidou-mobile_3426431_3246.html

The architecture of the Pompidou Mobile represents these egalitarian claims. “To be a great institution is a good thing,” (…) the president of the Pompidou claimed, “but it is also to be placed on a pedestal from which one must get off. I think that the Pompidou Mobile compels us to do that, to increase the “contact between art and society.” As such, the architecture was designed as a traveling structure in the image of a circus tent.11 11. Alain Seban in “Architecture. Un Pari Architectural,” Ville-Libourne Blog.

Inside its colorful skin, however, the white walls support valuable works of art. The tension between interior and exterior shows the paradoxes at work in contemporary cultural production. Museums want to become agents of popular culture; they are haunted by the romanticized aesthetic of the circus and the idea of a building that “has no foundation and is accessible to the population,” while, at the same time, maintain the white wall that ensures the value of an art object.12 12. Architect Patrick Bouchain in: “Architecture. Un Pari Architectural,” Ville-Libourne Blog.

Architect Patrick Bouchain’s confidence in the capacity of festivals and carnivals to challenge conventional social and political structures echoes the ideas of Henri Lefebvre and the Situationists, who saw festivals as reactions transgressing [Preview of the rest of the article is not available]


redescriptions # 3

by Carlos Arroyo

Redescriptions, artealizations and other sesquipedalia 127 Carlos Arroyo is a Linguist (IoLET-London 1990), Architect and Urban Planner (ETSAM 1997), and Researcher (DEA-ETSAM 2002). Carlos Arroyo Architects, his Madrid-based office of architecture and urbanism has an international scope, currently working in Spain, France, Belgium, Argentina, Colombia and Rwanda, with a strong emphasis on innovation and sustainability. He is the author of benchmark projects like the first Cradle to Cradle Inspired Building France (MdP The Lainière), the first 6 star GS-SA (Green Building Council) of the African continent outside South Africa (Nobelia), and the first transparent City Council integrated as a civic and social center of Belgium (OostCampus) which is now a reference for model transformation statewide. His projects have received numerous international awards such as the Prijs Bouwmeester to the best public building in Flanders, Holcim Silver Award for Sustainable Construction in Europe a EMVS award for residential innovation and sustainability, Europan 6, or a Award nomination Mies van der Rohe, obtaining international dissemination with exhibitions like the Venice Biennale (8th and 14th) and the Institut Français d’Architecture, and hundreds of publications globally including a comprehensive dossier on El Croquis. For further information, see:

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This text introduces six sesquipedalia (long words) to accompany each of the presentations in panel # 3 [redescriptions] on the second day of the International Conference Critic/All (21/06/2016). On that occasion, and with the aim of initiating a debate, the game consisted of arguing which long word corresponded to which paper.

ntimimesis A first background for this paper is the idea of antimimesis as defined by Oscar Wilde in 1891, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”1 According to Wilde, art can offer models towards which life can aspire; in apparent contradiction with Aristotelian mimesis, Wilde coincides with Aristofanes 1. Wilde, Oscar. The Decay of Lying. 1889. “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates when the latter wonders about the work of Menander: “O Life” Menander, O life! Which of you has imitated the other?”2 2. Halliwell, Stephen. The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Landscapes and portraits, two forms of pictorial representation of reality (mimesis), construct an aesthetic apparatus that serves as a guide for the interpretation and transformation of reality in a later generation (antimimesis). A portrait provides an ideal of beauty that can be followed by others. Beards, hairstyles, makeup, or even surgery, are useful tools for antimimesis. The young try out smiles in the mirror to find the ideal face shape, following the example of some celebrity portrait.


In the early days of cinema, when available film was of relatively low sensitivity for the brief exposure times required for moving pictures, the resulting low contrast made facial expressions difficult to capture; as a result, actors reinforced the visual contrast of their upper lips with fine moustaches, and actresses applied highly contrasted lipstick, almost black, and marked the shape of their eyes with very dark eye shadow. These traits were broadcast through movies and magazines, and later imitated by the public to the point of becoming a ubiquitous fashion, even if the technical aspects of high-speed photography were not relevant in real life; it is a case of life imitating art. When the technical problem was overcome, new models were developed, turning dark eye shadow into an absurd and even macabre - or just plain ugly - trait; until it was recovered by a second antimimesis, already in the era of color film. With this example, the mechanism of antimimesis is clearly revealed before us. It is not a matter of embellishment, or discovery of beauty; it is a process by which we stipulate what beauty is. Wilde’s text is loaded with irony, both in the literal sense and in the one that Rorty will later establish. Wilde says: “... that exciting white light that we now see in France, with its unique mauve spots and flickering violet shadows, is the latest fantasy of art, which nature, we must admit, reproduces wonderfully. Where it once composed Corots and Dauvignys, now offers adorable Monets and charming Pissarros.”3 3. Wilde, Oscar. Ibidem.

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The conversational tone of Wilde in this text, written in the manner of a Platonic dialogue in a worldly context, conveys in a very suggestive way what Roger would later call the “Copernican revolution of aesthetics”, the idea that reality is “each and every time” a function of culture. Artialisation Alain Roger, French philosopher born in 1936, Professor of Aesthetics, is the author of some of the most influential texts of landscape theory. In 1978, he first articulated his theory of artialisation, according to which every landscape is a product of art, which he develops and explains very didactically in his celebrated text Court traité du paysage (1997), in English entitled “Short treaty on landscape”4. 4. Roger, Alain. Court traité du paysage. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.

Roger coined the expressions artialisation in visu and artialisation in situ to describe the mechanism behind the construction of the idea of landscape in Western culture. In the first stage, art offers a possible reading of the territory, creating a cultural construction and an ideal to follow. In a second stage, the cultural construction determines interventions on the territory itself. These two steps correspond to the evolution of the very term landscape, that emerges at the end of the fifteenth century to denominate a graphic representation of a territory, referring exclusively to a pictorial genre, an artistic representation of a portion of land. Reality is the land; its representation is the landscape. If in the sixteenth century someone said “such a beautiful landscape!” they could only refer to a graphical representation. Nobody would use that expression pointing at a real mountain, just as no one would say “what a beautiful portrait!” while looking at a real person. Today, landscape denotes both the territory and its representation; this is the result of a second process, in the eighteenth century, when the aesthetic apparatus constructed by art transforming our vision of the territory (artialisation in visu) leads to intervention on it (artialisation in situ). Landscape architects emerge and landscape treatises are written, explaining how to intervene in the territory for a scene to be created so that, if it were represented graphically, it would appear pleasant and satisfying – i.e. it would agree with the aesthetic device created by landscape painters. The evolution of the term coincides with the processes of formation of modern states in Europe, from feudal fragmentation and city-states towards a comprehensive control of the territory. The relationship between town and country is transformed, country estates become an extension for the staging of social life amongst the ruling classes, productive farms


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become a symbol of wealth, and the architectures that are built within them are designed to showcase the territory under their control. Roger’s work is strictly a treatise on landscape, but the mechanism of artialisation may well be extrapolated to any form of cultural construction. Remember Oscar Wilde, and his fixation with the portrait, that other genre of graphic representation. We have seen how black and white photography where certain features are highlighted became popular, and from that moment people began to intervene on their own “territory” to integrate into the aesthetic apparatus constructed by those photographs. Does this apply to all our culture?


“It might be objected that this is an elitist aesthetic, a culture reserved for a few amateurs (people of high class) rich and idle enough to attend the art galleries. I do not think so. Our views, even if we may think them poor, are rich and saturated with a profusion of models, latent but deep-rooted and therefore unsuspected: pictures, literature, cinematography, television, advertising, etc., acting in silence, in each moment, to model our experience, perceptive or not. For our part, we are an artistic montage and we would be astonished if we were to be revealed all that, in us, comes from art.”5 5. Roger, Alain. Ibidem. Sesquipedalia These are long words, very long, frequent in research conferences and texts like this. Logically: When someone tries to define a new concept, they have at their disposal a finite set of roots with ancient meanings. One way to approach the new idea is to combine roots, prefixes and suffixes, adding nuances to the well-known, obtaining a new word that may possibly be a little too long. Remember how, at the dawn of scientific thought and when new techniques and technologies were developed, the difficulty of naming the new led to combinations of Greek and Latin roots forming portmanteau words, which, being longer than normal, are relatively short if we think that they substitute a complete sentence. As an example, we have our everyday telephone, from the Greek τῆλε and φωνή or television from Greek τῆλε and Latin visio, which could also have been called device for distant resounding, or far-sight viewing apparatus. The usefulness of the compound word is evident. However, Horace in his Ars Poetica recommends avoiding bombastic language ... and long words, which he calls sesquipedalia verba or words a foot and a half long (proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba). At that precise moment, he coined the original sesquipedalian, inaugurating a long tradition of hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianists that would later find its greatest exponents in scholars of German philosophy.

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One wonders whether the Roman poet, translator of major works of Greek lyrical poetry, reflected his own struggle to transform polysyllabic Greek into Latin grammar, just as anyone who tries to refer to the famous Hegelian Freundesvereinsausgabe in plain English may not be satisfied with the resulting simple phrase, and might feel the need to coin a big word to emphasize the seriousness and significance of such fanzines. Thus, the technical difficulty of translating German articulation to more prosaic languages, along with the prestige of philosophy in that language, result in an imitable model of long words and tortured grammar, able to turn the most banal idea into an inscrutable landscape ploughed with abstractions and typographic cumulonimbus of a high chromatism and dubious syntactic and semantic characterization, also common in texts like the one you are reading. Cosmolimescognoscientia This sesquipedalian is probably far too complex, and if we want to understand its concept it may be much more adequate to use a phrase: Threshold of disorder. We define threshold of disorder6 as the degree of complexity above which we are not able to identify an organizing principle. In this context, order, disorder and 6. Arroyo, Carlos. “Umbral de Desordenâ€? en: complexity are subjective concepts, which rely solely CIRCO, Revista de Arquitectura y Pensamiento nÂş 75. Madrid: Circo M.R.T. Coop., 2000. on the experience and ability of the observer. For the uninitiated, Indian classical music is but a succession of meaningless squeaks caterwauling, as the British would say at a certain time in history. As one discovers ragas and talas, morning and evening moods, and as experience and memory allow us to recognize the underlying structures, we raise our threshold of disorder, getting to the point where we know that every note is inevitable at the time of issuance. We can have a different threshold of disorder for Carnatic music and for opera, but if we can raise our threshold in both cases, we shall be more alert when we meet twelve-tone music; Likewise, those who learn a second language find it easier to learn a third. Raising our threshold of disorder in several aspects facilitates the task of understanding other equilibriums, as long as we receive enough information. Perhaps the clouds or oceans are among the most seemingly chaotic systems from the human perspective; however, when we see the graphs and visualizations currently produced by weather services, allowing us to recognize patterns in the movement of clouds in relation to ocean currents and variations of pressure and temperature, we find that the clouds are a perfectly ordered system in dynamic equilibrium.

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dealing with reality # 4

by Luis Rojo de Castro

Autonomy today

Luis Rojo de Castro graduated from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid in 1987, were he has been teaching design since 1992. He is currently Ph D Professor at the Department of Architecture, teaching design studios at the undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as Labs and Workshops at the Master for Advanced Architecture program. He is currently the Coordinator of the Ph D Program at the Architecture Department of the School of Architecture of Madrid. He obtained a Masters degree at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University , in 1989, and was Visiting Professor of Architecture at the GSD on regular basis between 1994 and 1998, and again in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Since 1999 he has been a regular Visiting Professor of History and Architecture Theory at the Escuela de Arquitectura de Navarra. As a result of his academic and research practice, his writings on contemporary architecture have been published in A+U, El Croquis, Cassabella, Tectónica, Revista Arquitectura, CIRCO, etc. He obtained a Ph.D in Architecture from the Architecture Department at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, with a dissertation on the contaminations of Le Corbusier’s discourse with the instruments of Surrealism during the 1920’s. Luis Rojo belongs to the Editorial Board of the academic journal Cuaderno de Proyectos Arquitectónicos CPA , oriented towards disciplinary reasearch and published by Department of Architecture at the ETSAM, as well as to the Scientific Committe of Critic|all.


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n June 2016 the second Critic|all conference, in coordination with the 7th edition of the MPAA Master program, proposed reconsideration of the concept of architecture’s autonomy and its current role both in professional practice and in architecture theory. The call issued by the conference made reference to globalization’s pragmatism and its impact over and through the economic, social, political, technological, warfare and ecological realms. And, it declared, as heir to Postmodernism and its distaste for Utopia and ideology, globalization promotes a concealed recognition of the status quo.


Certainly, if we are to re-draw once again the body of architecture – its organs or even its questioned anatomy - with the intention of discerning its identity within this global scenario, we will have to do it within the formless context of global realism and mass-media, removed from the art-object reification of architecture on which autonomy was once predicated. Thus, if we assume that autonomy and form are programmatically relevant again, they are so within a particularly new and complex context, in which the role of architecture is more blurred than ever before, embedded in a cultural and professional context uninterested in differences, disciplinary boundaries or identities. So we are faced with the need –if there is such need- to answer to why a debate on autonomy is relevant again today. And, necessarily and immediately after this, where do we stand today in regard to autonomy within the context of globalization, mass media and the radical interconnection of contemporary knowledge and techniques? I will approach the task of answering both questions by outlining a certain genealogy of events that construct a sequence, a historical index of events in order to refresh our memory as well as to remind us of the recurrence of its claims. Though it could probably be argued that the new identity of architecture created in the Renaissance fully displays the qualities of autonomy, the modern and problematic understanding of the concept of autonomy we are circling around should not be traced that far back. Its origins can be identified in Kaufmann’s writings just before and after the 2nd World War, circa 1930-1940. Kaufmann connected Immanuel Kant with Ledoux and the rational of Neoclassicism. And, if we follow this hypothesis, the connection extends beyond, all the way through Le Corbusier and the aesthetics of abstraction to Modernism, in a polemical lineage that will stay at the heart of these debates. For Kaufmann, autonomy is expressed both as a conceptual discourse and in the organization of form. And it is such direct expression of formal autonomy that links the abstraction of Modernism with the rational venue and the synthetic fragmented morphologies of the revolutionary rationalism that characterized the architecture of Boulle and Ledoux, a bold move not exempt of difficulties.

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However, in the post-war architecture scene this lineage split in several drifts, opening up new and opposed interpretations of autonomy: On the one hand, through such figures as Rossi and Rowe, a disciplinary autonomy that, thought with different agendas in mind, reclaimed the role of form and History in the new post-war scenario. On the other, a new and autonomous role of architecture as a critical instrument –the concept of a critical architecture, capable of unveiling its discursive nature as well as its ideological agenda-, was built up towards the 1970s and was finally capitalized by Eisenman through the journal Oppositions and by Michael Hays in Assemblage. Eisenman constructed a compelling yet overly complex argument for the dismembering of the conventions of architecture in seminal theoretical texts such as ‘The End of the Classical’, where the concepts of function, form and History were undermined as arbitrary conventions. On his part, Hays propelled through academia the role of a new kind of Critical Theory as the ground for architectural education, and aimed at reconfiguring architecture as a discursive construction and not just as a practical instrument. So, by the 1980s, the concept of architecture’s autonomy had split in two trends as a result of the different roles assigned to FORM and the symbolic content –in particular in the plans-; to HISTORY as a source of identity and authority -its disciplinary support-, and to REASON, a mechanism that connected un-problematically historical and contemporary architecture. Then, in 1984, the issue Nº21 of Perspecta, the journal of the Yale School of Architecture, raised the discussion about autonomy again , this time under the spell of the trip through Las Vegas as a surrogate of popular culture, the symbols of the American and the engagement of architecture with a sort of ‘real reality’ -as opposed to an aestheticized and intellectualized vision of such reality, its academic sublimation-, thus reintroducing the social, the political, the vernacular and the common within the concerns of architecture. However, the confrontation between the heirs of popular architecture and the obtrusive discourse of theory produced within the secluded and protected environment of architecture schools, or the over-intellectualized analytical processes of Eisenman methodologies of description and production, ended inadvertently with the construction boom of the 90s. In a sort of sudden amnesia, such confrontation between social and cultural engagement versus Critical Theory was replaced by a new approach more in tune with the times, later named as New Pragmatism. By then, the theorization of globalization and its un-problematic acceptance of an ‘uncritical practice’ was the new academic and intellectual stand, for which autonomy was not on the agenda. It was within that venue that the pragmatic Duch intelligencia of the 90s openly rejected the ‘obscure’ Critical Theory of French and American academia in the name of architecture’s


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instrumental integration in the global economy and the unquestioned radical capitalism of the turn of the century. The New Pragmatism declared war on theory and thus on autonomy and, through the 90s we learned that to be contemporary meant, among other things, the substitution of disciplinarity for instrumentality, a transition within which History became another collateral damage.


However, it could be argued that such confrontation was neither simple nor binary, or that what was being actually proposed was a new disciplinarity constructed by other means. In other words, a disciplinarity supported on a pragmatic realism that runs along the actual production of such reality: the ‘just there’ proposed by Michael Speaks in those same years. The new emphasis was directed towards architecture and its mechanism when invested in the resolution of ‘uninteresting’ problems or practical needs in the contexts of globalization and development, turning its back on content and theory out of a more pragmatic ‘economy of means and ends’. That might explain how we ended up interested in the typical plan, the production of informal urbanisms or the discovery of the generic as a contemporary condition, identifying the more sophisticated operative systems already at work in the more banal or unloaded contexts and devoted to a supportive theory. And such was the spirit of the revisiting issue of Perspecta Nº33 when, in 2002, the journal editors made a new Call for Papers under the title “Mining Autonomy”. The message was clearly stated in the editorial piece: “Far from abandoning the notion of autonomy, Mining Autonomy maintains a critical position that shifts its attention from the centre of the discipline to its borders. Located at the interface between autonomous withdrawal and cultural determination, critical architecture occupies a position on the periphery where it acts as mediator –translating knowledge from various pursuits into the language and conventions of architecture as well as passing intelligence and speculation from the discipline to the world. Architecture is therefore capable of maintaining both its critical capacity while also engaging in its social and cultural context.” The role of autonomy versus instrumentality was, in fact, being retraced and reformulated through the very contemporary capacity to accept the dilemmas derived from paradox, together with the very democratic principle of ‘one and the other versus one or the other’ already stated by Venturi years before. ‘Located in the interface’ and acting as ‘mediator’ –the social roles that architecture cannot abandon nor deny-, will not be at odds with maintaining a critical and autonomous role, according to the editors.

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Thus, such is the circular journey we have to face and to acknowledge when we decide to answer the question as to why the autonomy of architecture is a significant issue again in 2016, and where do we stand in regard to this recurring debate. A quick look at the architecture blogs and digital media shows us that form is back, if it ever went away. But it is not the form that Rossi or Rowe had in mind; it’s another kind of form, a form autonomous from history, almost a figure of form predicated both on technological instruments of production based on digital resources as well as on the media dissemination of images as icons. We are told that when an object serves a purpose, its form comes from efficacy, from its capacity to meet functional requirements with the maximum economy of means. Being useful and fit for the job turns the object into a sort of structural model, an anatomical body tuned for its purpose, like such machinist devices as Le Corbusier’s airplane images or Francesco di Giorgio’s fortress of Sassocorvaro alike. These devices display an instrumental nature: the value of the purposeful object, the technical limb. They are tools. These kinds of objects have no history, no aura; they are signs of an instrumental reason. This sort of reason has been re-named as functionality, but it still resides on the classical paradigms of truthfulness and proportionality, now reconfigured as economy of means and of usefulness. Other objects display an abstract form, alien to the unity of symbolism or the readability of iconography. Its reason is purely formal, with no reference to other systems of meaning. It resides in the object placed in front of us, on its direct and actual experience. We are confronted with their material quality, embedded in the physical presence and summoned by the relationship with the viewer. It is not about meaning or representation, but about matter and materiality that remains abstract, oblivious to interpretation, opaque. 20th Century art –Duchamp, Mondrian and Pollock- has taken us here. Today, however, objects are fundamentally allegorical, as their meaning does not coincide with their material body or its qualities. Form resides on an envelope that has achieved its own autonomy, its own role: the autonomy of the image, the digital surface and the wrapping without matter. It is a paradoxical quality, as it reclaims the value of multiplicity and ambiguity, of the detachment of the image from the structure, even of form from content. Such is the structure of allegory, capable of bonding arbitrarily the object and its meaning. So, if there was a time when form was autonomous, now it floats free both in time and space, in the space of digital dissemination and parody. This new autonomy is not derived from the discourse of architecture but from the very nature of the media, the subordination of the [Preview of the rest of the article is not available]


Lecture # 2

Looking Good

Sarah Whiting Sarah Whiting possesses an indefatigable curiosity about how individuals constitute a public and, more specifically, through what forms (architecture and urbanism) that public manifests itself and is, in turn, formed. In her writing, her teaching, and her practice, Whiting focuses on architecture’s public audience and how architecture can engage that collective subject. Whiting has been Dean of the School of Architecture at Rice University since January 2010; she taught previously at Princeton, Harvard, University of Kentucky, IIT, and University of Florida. Whiting received her B.A. from Yale University, her M.Arch. from Princeton, and her Ph.D. from MIT. Whiting’s writing and editing has been published in numerous magazines and books, ranging from ANY to Wired. Whiting co-founded WW with her partner, Ron Witte, in 1999. Some of their projects include the Lavenda-Escobar House in Houston, the master plan for St. Stephens Church and School in Houston, the Kaihui Business Center in Changsha, China, and the Golden House in Princeton, N.J.

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rchitecture today is not in what would be called an authorial moment – there is no dominant paradigm. That’s a condition that’s both liberating and challenging. It obliges us to look carefully at the now, at how we got here (the recent past), at the longer arc of that trajectory (architectural history but also the cultural history that got us here), and to choose what we think is important, or at least, what’s relevant. We need to look good, and we need to take a good look. To put it another way, we are at a critical moment for architectural thinking, both for schools and for practice. We are at a divide between one road – the one of cultural relevance – or another route, which leads to architects becoming service providers and problem solvers. As a dean, a practitioner, and as a historian and critic, I advocate the urgency of the former This talk is really quite simple: first, I have been intrigued by a strange consensus that seems to have blanketed architectural discourse: the object is bad. This attitude differs significantly from the crisis of the object, which has been a refrain of modernity since the enlightenment. Rather than a crisis, we seem to have on our hands right now more of a shunning of the object. Second, that shunning seems to be in synch with a parallel shunning of theory.

244 Now, typically I’m not really a big crisis person. Anxiety, crises, apocalypse: we have plenty of these themes fueling the nightly news – I don’t think we need to look to the negative to fuel our architectural ambitions. But one should never ignore consensus. When one starts to find consensus over points like these, that means that something’s afoot. Are these two strains of consensus linked? I think so. I’d like to offer what might seem to be a counterintuitive proposition, which is that representation might offer us a means of addressing this situation, but first I’d like to elaborate the situation itself so that we can better understand it. What’s interesting to me is that the object has recently enjoyed a resurgence of interest and attention within contemporary work in art history, with a number of new works focused on materiality, craft and perception. This trend has not translated to architecture, however. For some reason, these discussions invoke anxieties within our field. Additionally, we also added the complication of a disinterested audience. While the subject who views art’s objects is always an interested subject and often a singular one, architecture necessarily engages a collective and frequently disinterested subject. I came to architecture via political theory and via a very basic question that underlies political theory: how do individuals operate together as a political society? We are all simultaneously individuals and also part of the collective (or many collectives, to be more precise), and that is particularly true when it comes to our architectural audience: our collective subject is comprised of an

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endless number of individuals. Famously, as Walter Benjamin pointed out already in 1936, architecture is viewed in a state of distraction – we have a disinterested audience. Benjamin’s statement is ever more true today, of course, in a context where pedestrians stumble along, focused on their cellphone rather than on the world around them. Importantly, alongside the lack of interest in the architectural object, there’s been a decline of interest in theorizing architecture (the object is only one victim of this general trend). A couple of years ago, the American magazine Architect ran an editorial by Ned Cramer that caught my attention. After acknowledging that he had never been an “ace student,” Cramer proclaimed that “he’s never been big on theory” and went on to delight in the conclusion he drew upon surveying the contemporary architectural scene: “Social relevance, sustainability, and building performance, he noted, have supplanted theory in the hearts, minds and rhetoric of our leading practitioners and academics.”1 1. Cramer, Ned. “Dialogue: The Silly and the Profound” Editorial, in: Architect, October, 2013. editorial/dialogue-the-silly-and-the-profound_o

I find Cramer’s conclusion troubling, but while I don’t share his glee, I can’t really say that he is wrong. A rhetoric of responsibility has taken over our discipline and it seems that theory is commonly understood to be irresponsible, and therefore off the table. Even before the economic crash, a discourse of responsibility began to manifest itself through a critique of what was termed “starchitecture.” A panel discussion sponsored already in 2007 by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy and the Forum for Urban Design, was entitled “A Critical Situation: What to Make of Starchitecture and Who to Blame for It.” By 2010, with the downturn fully dominating everyone’s thinking, Newsweek magazine proclaimed the “death of starchitecture,” with an article that contrasted the end of extravagance with a “subtler, new aesthetic” that shifts values from can-you-top-this toward more efficient, functional buildings”. One point that caught my eye in that Newsweek article was the particular aim taken at the singular building: quoting Ricky Burdett (Director of the Cities program at the London School of Economics), the article stated that “with the blurring of the boundaries among disciplines, you’re recognizing that you don’t solve the problem with an object building. Everything belongs to a context in the city.”2 In short, responsibility seems not only to mean a turn away from theory but also, specifically, a turn 2. McGuigan, Cathleen. “The Death of Starchitecture” in: Newsweek, June 2010: http:// away from the object: here’s where these two strains of critique dovetail.

This theme of targeting the object building again appeared when Michael Kimmelman took over the position of architecture critic at the New York Times. Kimmelman has deliberately


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avoided writing about singular buildings, “repoliticizing his beat,” as he himself puts it, by focusing on housing projects, urban planning, and the street. As Kimmelman explained “I spent 20 years as an art critic writing about sculpture and artists—I get it. To talk about a building as if it were a sculpture is a legitimate way of seeing it but is also an impoverishment of the various things that have gone into thinking about that building and to the life of the building and the people who use it.” This is the architecture critic for the New York Times, suggesting that architecture’s aesthetics are identical to those of sculpture and, further, that it is impossible to talk simultaneously about a building’s aesthetics and its “life”. A final example is quite fresh and hits especially close to home: Ron Witte and I (in other words, WW) had a project in a small, recent show at the Chicago Art Institute called Chicagoisms, curated by Alexander Eisenschmidt and John Mekinda. Our model, which was displayed in the section called “Optimism Trumps Planning,” was for a single building filling its entire block. While a singular object, this building created urban relationships through its geometry in what I’ve elsewhere referred to as a kind of engaged autonomy. We were given only 150 words to explain our project, so we used that short space to posit this theory of engaged autonomy, arguing that the object can and should be a generator in, of and for the city.

246 In his review of the exhibition, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin called out only three projects, including ours. That’s nice, except that he called it out with condemnation, writing “Other models, like “I Object!” by Ron Witte and Sarah Whiting of Houston, provoke with their arrogant defense of buildings as objects — bereft of concern for the urban environment or saving energy.”3 It’s telling that Kamin felt entirely comfortable concluding that our attention to the object so obviously meant 3. Kamin, Blair. “’Chicagoisms’, a small gallery that we must possess an utter disregard for the stuffed with big architectural ideas” in: environment (Image 1, 2 & 3). Chicago Tribune, April 9, 2014. http://articles. chi-chicagoisms-art-institute-review-20140409_1_ chicago-river-chicago-history-museum-adviser/2

These are only a few among countless examples of contemporary jabs at architecture’s objecthood, and through that condemnation, at architectural theory. All of these examples associate singularity with sculpture, with iconicity—in short, with “starchitecture.” All equate objecthood with social, environmental, and civic irresponsibility. Responsibility, on the other hand, is equated with anything but the object: responsibility is about relations, origins, use, life, and context. This tight binary between objecthood and responsibility leaves practitioners and critics alike very little running room: a general consensus has slowly but decidedly emerged that a focus on the building, on its objecthood and certainly on its form is simply irresponsible and therefore taboo.

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This context-object opposition has led to the curious situation whereby architects, and students try to design architecture without designing a building. I was on a review once for a studio on the topic of aquaponics farming – a program that would produce food on a waterfront site in Queens. That’s a laudable ambition and it’s even exciting to imagine the many architectural possibilities that this innovative program might foster. But the work the students produced during that term consisted instead almost 90% of diagrams of information about the production of omega 3 fatty rich foods. We all know that architecture is a generalist discipline, but if we don’t teach students how to design architecture, who will? There are plenty of scientists in the world who know the details of aquaponics farming; our job is to work with these specialists through design, rather than try to become them through biology. Sure, we need to be able to communicate with other areas of expertise, but it is imperative that we keep design at the center of our enterprise. Advocating for design does not mean that architects become service providers. Already in 1947, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy argued in his book, Vision in Motion, that “Designing is not a profession but an attitude….of resourcefulness and inventiveness.” The act of designing can be understood in many ways, but most basically design is a representation – drawn or modeled – to figure out and also to represent the form and program of an object (object can mean anything from the scale of clothing or furniture to a city). Moholy-Nagy recognized that one could not evacuate the object from consideration if one wanted to design. In short, as design historian John Heskett explained in Design: a Very Short Introduction, only somewhat facetiously, “design is to design a design to produce a design.” Design, to put it simply, is what we do that other fields don’t do. Architects have to take care that we don’t start taking that role for granted. The term Gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of art, or a synthesis of the arts – was first coined in the 1820s by the German philosopher Karl Friedrich Trahndorff, although it wasn’t until opera composer Richard Wagner’s use of it in the 1840s that it really took root as a concept.4 It was Gropius who brought the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk 4. For an extended discussion of the history of the into architecture with the Bauhaus school, which Gesamtkunstwerk, see: Koss, Juliet. Modernism offered a pedagogical Gesamtkunstwerk. We can point After Wagner. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. to any number of modern projects that synthesized in this way: Charles and Ray Eames are perhaps the most obvious but really the whole modern project was a way of living, a way of perceiving, and a way of making, even synthesizing art/ science and life in work like that of György Kepes, whose “language of vision” (as he coined it in the posthumously published book of that name) included, among other disciplines, [Preview of the rest of the article is not available]



Critic|all II book preview


Critic|all II book preview